Why Mosquitoes Love *YOU*; The Role of Environmental Enrichment in Cognitive Aging; The Ethics of Vaccine Allocation; The First Battle of Makin Island

For March 10, 2021

Please share this missive with your friends & neighbors. 

If you’ve already registered for a previous WN@TL zoom this year, you’re good—you don’t have to register again.

If you’ll be watching for the first time, please register for the WN@TL Zoom at go.wisc.edu/240r59 

WN@TL begins at 7:00pm Central.


Hi WN@TL Fans,

My neighbor Rob and my wife Kristen are so attractive to mosquitoes that when I host our neighborhood’s rotating Grillage in the Village cookouts I post Rob at one end of our patio and Kristen at the other.  They embody the two foci of an ellipse, and their powers of attraction allow those of us who mingle between the two of them to be nearly free of the mozzie.

I have no idea how it works.  This Wednesday, I may be at the cusp of finding out how.

It’ll be wondrous strange if it has to do with microbiomes, and doubly so if it has to do with the mosquito’s microbiome.  It won’t be the first time the collective noun for “all the microbes on or in an organism” has bowled over what was thought to be known.

Back in 1983 friends of mine in the Department of Plant Pathology were studying the microbes that lived on leaves of plants, and especially leaves of trees.  My friends viewed the leaf and its colonization by microbes as an analog of island biogeography, a kind of botanic rather than volcanic Surtsey coming into existence.  Leaves unfold their untold virgin spaces all spring and summer long, and studying the sequence by which different microbes get to each new leaf the firstest with the mostest helps explore how benign microbes might slow or flat-out prevent the infection of leaves by later-arriving pathogenic bacteria or fungi.

This examination of mixed populations of microbes on leaves contrasted sharply with my previous exposure to bacteriology as defined by pure culture obtained by streaking bacteria on the surface of nutrient agar in a Petri plate. Bacteriologists obtain a pure culture by locating an isolated bacterial colony growing on the agar, and by using that bacterial colony to inoculate a liquid culture.  In that way one can study a single-species bacterial population all by its lonesome.

Bacteriologists call such a population an isolate, a word rooted in “isle” meaning ‘island’ — and what is a bacterial colony on Petri plate but an island?  And as John Donne almost said, “No microbe is an island entire of itself.”   What Donne didn’t know he was (almost) saying is this:  microbes don’t grow all by their lonesomes in nature very often.

I don’t remember the word “microbiome” being in play in 1983, but its rise in the past two decades illustrate the potential power of a new word.

Twain wryly noted the difference between the right word and almost the right word is like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.  Microbiome is one of them lightning words to me.

Even more thunderous is the idea that microbiomes go far beyond the easily-ruminated physiological roles such as in digestion and on to demonstrable but inexplicable (to me, so far) roles in behavior.


On March 10 we delve into a mix of microbiology & mosquitoes.  Kerri Coon of Bacteriology will be here to talk about “Why Mosquitoes Love YOU (and Other Things You Never Knew about Skeeters & Their Microbiome).”


Description:  Microbes are everywhere…and so are mosquitoes. Our lab has found interesting links between the communities of microbes present in the guts of mosquitoes and the environments in which they live (i.e. the ‘mosquito microbiome’) and the ability of mosquitoes to grow, reproduce, and blood feed. These findings not only have important implications for the development of novel strategies to control mosquitoes and the pathogens they transmit, but also for our understanding of how microbes have shaped the evolution of other, closely related insects of ecological, medical, and agricultural concern. Join us to find out more about the biology of these notorious pests, and to learn about a friendly mosquito native to Wisconsin!

Bio:  Kerri Coon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Bacteriology. Kerri received her doctoral degree from the lab of Dr. Michael Strand at the University of Georgia, where she studied the microbial regulation of molting in mosquitoes. She subsequently worked on insect microbiome-immune system interactions in Dr. Nancy Moran’s lab at the University of Texas at Austin before starting her position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019. Research in Kerri’s lab focuses on understanding the diversity and function of gut microbes in mosquitoes and other insect disease vectors.


Link: https://kcoonlab.bact.wisc.edu/


On March 17 Corinna Burger of Neurology provides insights into keeping a sharp mind with her talk, “Use It or Lose It: the Role of Environmental Enrichment in Cognitive Aging.”

Description:  Cognitive reserve/resilience is a growing focus in the field of aging and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and, although high educational attainment provides resilience to age-related cognitive impairment and AD, the molecular mechanisms giving rise to the functional benefits of high cognitive activity are unknown. My lab studies how environmental enrichment improves cognitive function in aging rats to identify pharmacological or lifestyle changes that can provide resilience to the effects of aging and neurodegeneration.

Bio: Corinna Burger is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology. She received her PhD from the University of Colorado Health Science Center and did post-doc research at the State University of New York and at the University of Florida before joining the faculty at UW-Madison.  Her lab is interested in two main problems in molecular neuroscience: the molecular biology of learning and memory, and the genetic mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative disorders.

Link:  https://www.neurology.wisc.edu/burger-lab


On March 24 Paul Kelleher of Philosophy speaks on “The Ethics of Vaccine Allocation” as part of the “UW Philosophers at Work” series of the Department of Philosophy.

[By the way, I (Zinnen) turned 63.5 yesterday, and I do have a dog in this fight.  You might, too.]

Description:  Drawing on first-hand experience as a philosopher-bioethicist who has helped to write state- and hospital-level allocation guidelines during the pandemic, Paul Kelleher will discuss the ethics of equitable vaccine allocation.

Bio:  Paul Kelleher is Associate Professor of Bioethics and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. His teaching and research explore ethical and philosophical dimensions of public policy, especially health policy and climate change policy. He co-chairs the Advisory Committee for UW–Madison’s University Health Services, serves on the UW Hospital Ethics Committee, and has served on two state-level committees concerned with the allocation of scarce COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics.


Links:  http://paulkelleher.net



Ah, mid-March.  The days grow longer, the sun grows stronger.  A few more days at 61 degrees and we’ll have some mosquitoes to deal with on the patio.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H